Salaries, benefits drive increase in 2020-21 Lawrence school district budget

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education has introduced a $75.7 million operating budget for 2020-21.

A public hearing and final action on the budget has been set for the board’s May 6 meeting in the Lawrence High School library. Residents may comment on the budget at that time.

The district’s 2019-20 operating budget totaled $76 million.

The 2020-21 budget carries a 4-cent increase in the school district tax rate, from $1.53 to $1.57 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $282,000 paid about $4,315 in school taxes in 2019-20. For 2020-21, the school tax for the owner of that home will increase to about $4,427.

“The decrease (in the budget from 2019-20 to 2020-21) is due to capital outlay in the current year that was paid for by the capital reserve and fund balance (savings). We have an actual increase (of $1.9 million) in the proposed budget for current expense,” Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge said.

The primary cost drivers in the 2020-21 budget are salaries and benefits, Eldridge said. Salaries and benefits will increase by $1.8 million, from $59.4 million to $61.2 million.

Over the past five years, the appropriation for salaries and benefits has increased from $54.2 million in the 2016-17 budget to $61.2 million in the 2020-21 budget.

Costs for transportation, energy, supplies and services will go up by $202,141, but that expense will be offset by a $19,866 decrease in out-of-district tuition for students who have special needs.

The combined costs for transportation, energy, supplies and services have remained relatively flat at or around $5 million from 2016-17 to 2020-21.

Special education costs accounted for 19% of spending in 2016-17 and will account for 21% in 2020-21. The upcoming school year’s budget allocates $15.9 million for special education.

Regular education costs accounted for 39% of spending in 2016-17 and will account for 37% in 2020-21. The upcoming school year’s budget anticipates spending $27.5 million on regular education.

Turning to the revenue side, the property tax levy to support the 2020-21 budget will be $69.7 million. Property taxes are paid by the township’s residential and commercial property owners.

Other sources of revenue include the district’s surplus fund and miscellaneous revenue such as tuition and interest on savings. The 2020-21 budget anticipates using $925,000 from the surplus fund and generating $328,000 in miscellaneous revenue.

State aid as a source of revenue is expected to be $4.6 million, which is a $443,930 increase over the $4.2 million the district received in state aid for the 2019-20 budget.